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I picked up the phone. Then I put it back down. "Where is that damn agenda?" I said to myself. "Didn't she give me her business card on the plane?" After some scrambling through my bags and nearly knocking my copy of "MTW" (or Gravitation as it is so titled) off the coffee table and onto Friday, I found it. Friday looked at me like I was an idiot and then rolled over onto her other side. Once again, I reassured her that she was queen of all felines.

I started to pick up the phone again. It rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin. My ribs were getting better, but they still didn't like sudden moves. It rang again. Composing myself, I answered the phone.

"Uh, hello?"

"Anson, it's Jim."

"Yeah what's up? I just got yours and Rebecca's messages by the way."

"After you said something Sunday about having to suck the energy right out of spacetime itself for the warp field, I got to thinking. I went straight to the lab and haven't gone home since. I designed a couple of nanodevices that Rebecca is depositing in the vacuum chamber right now. It should be done and ready to test by the time you get here."

I wasn't sure what the hell Jim was talking about. I barely remember the hospital, much less a conversation about vacuum energy physics.

"Jim, slow down. What does this device do? And what conversation are you talking about?"

Jim gulped, or at least it sounded like he did over the phone.

"Anson, are you okay? It does just what you said it should do. Don't you remember talking about miniature pistons and such in the cab on the way from the hospital to the hotel?"

"No I do not!"

"Oh, well, you did and I paid close attention. Thank goodness. Anyway, it's a microscopic well to trap vacuum energy as an electric charge generated by a nanosized two-cycle piston system." I still wasn't sure what all this was about.

"Are you telling me that you have a design that will actually let you acquire energy from the vacuum using the Casimir effect?"

"Yes, uh, well, I think so. I calculate that it will capture about a microjoule per second."

I ran some numbers in my head real quick. "Let's see, a microwatt—and we need ten to the twentieth watts. That's ten to the twenty-sixth of these nano things. How small can you make them, Jim?"

"The prototype is about ten nanometers on a side."

"That's a cube one hundred meters per side!" I cried, excitedly. I calmed slightly and continued, "That's way too big! You couldn't get it in the Shuttle. It would have to be constructed in space. If it really works, we will have to either make them about twenty times smaller or figure out how to make them capture more energy. I will be there in about forty-five minutes. I want to take a shower first. I've been flying all day." I hung up the phone and turned toward the bedroom.

"Oh yeah, bye," I yelled over my shoulder at the already hung up receiver.

The twenty-minute drive to the lab gave me some time to think. The Casimir effect: an interesting phenomenon named after the guy who thought of it. The idea is that there is this vacuum energy all around us all the time at every possible wavelength. It behaves like normal electromagnetic radiation except that we don't notice it. It is kind of like a fish in water. The fish probably never notices the water around him, but he sees the things in it. We never notice the spacetime around us, but we see planets and stars and people and fish all around us. We pay no attention to the spacetime just like the fish pays no attention to the water.

Anyway, this spacetime around us consists of all this electromagnetic energy at all different wavelengths. This bright guy Casimir suggested that if somehow we could get two conducting plates and put them very close together, say, less than some of these wavelengths, then the area between the two plates would shield out any energy that had wavelengths longer than the distance between the two plates. But, outside the plates, all of the energy at all of the bands would remain. In other words, there would be more energy outside the two plates than between them. Because of this, Casimir suggested that the two plates would be pushed together. The force pushing them would come straight out of the vacuum of spacetime itself! Cool, huh?

As micromachining became more developed over the past fifteen years or so, people started noticing that their machine parts (if they were made small enough) would stick together for some reason. Most of these guys attributed this "stiction" to static electricity; the same way a white sock sticks to your dress pants in a place that you don't notice until you see people pointing at you as you are walking down the street with a sock stuck to your butt or hanging out your pants leg. Jim and I had long thought that the "stiction" might be due to the Casimir effect instead of static electricity. So had a few of the other BPP scientists.

As I pulled into the parking lot of our lab at Research Park, I realized that I never returned Tabitha's call. "Oh well, wasn't sure what she wanted anyway," I muttered. When I got to the lab Rebecca was pacing outside the door to the lab. "Did you finish?" I asked.

"It's done. Did Jim tell you this is the fourth one I've sputtered today? No, he didn't, did he? Did he tell you neither one of us has been home in thirty-six hours? No, he didn't, did he?!"

"Uh, no, I, I don't know. Maybe he mentioned it. Look, if you are tired, just go home."

"Are you kidding? And miss seeing if this thing works or not? You gotta be nuts. What, are you trying to get rid of me? Do you want me to go home?"

I will never understand women. I guess Rebecca just needed to complain about something. She is like that. She shook her long black hair and rolled it back up under her paper hair hat. "Well?"

I replied, "Skip it. Let's just go have a look, shall we."

She led me through the rat maze to the clean room and vacuum chamber area. Jim came through the airlock with a blue paper outfit on. I never could get used to those damn things, but I began putting on a similar garment. As I was putting on my paper slippers I asked, "Jim, is it ready?"

"You're not going to believe what's in there. I think we've done it," he replied.

"If you two have, then we're going to stop and make sure you both graduate by May. That only gives us about two to three months to finish writing your dissertations and defend them and fill out all the paperwork."

"Neither Jim or I have enough credits yet. We're both two classes short. How could we?" Rebecca objected.

"Well let's worry about one thing at a time. Okay, Jim, let's have a look."

I could spend a while talking about what I saw here, but it would be technical and not real exciting to you. Or maybe it would if you are the techie geeky sort like me. Let's just say that the damn thing worked. There was a little box ten nanometers long on a side (one nanometer is one billionth of a meter by the way) and inside it were two moving pistons. One of them was attached to the other in such a way that the Casimir effect pushed on one and pulled on the other, then vice versa. This way the plates were never allowed to be pushed all the way together. Attached to the outer side of the box was probably the tiniest generator the human race had ever built. From the generator was a wire so small you could only see it with an electron microscope that was attached to a larger wire, which led to a microvolt meter. The resistance in the larger wire loaded the generator, allowing us to measure the power dissipated by it. We measured more than twenty times just to be sure. Each time we got one microwatt of power constantly coming from the generator. Energy for free right out of the spacetime! Now, mind you, this is in no way violating the law of conservation of energy. The nanodevices simply transfer from the vacuum energy via the Casimir effect to the nanogenerators. What an amazing concept. This could put OPEC right out of business. About time!

Of course, this was only one microwatt. The first step was to scale the thing up. Also, we had spent about two and half million dollars just to get this one little box. Of course, now that we knew how to build one, we could do it for say fifty bucks or so. A full up version would require 1026 of them. Yikes! Way too expensive. But Jim reassured me that it would cost no more to sputter a hundred thousand of these things than it would to sputter one. After some arguing and a lot of cursing, I agreed with him. Rebecca backed him up. So, with some tweaking, we had the energy for a warp drive.

All I need to do now is figure out how to actually do the warp! I thought. So close! So close.

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